Friends and Family,
The Midwest feels just fine to me despite the fact that the rain has been following me today as I move from Madison through Milwaukee and Chicago on my way to St. Louis.
Large protests, which took place alongside the 2nd largest deployment of police force in this nation's history, stirred up the Republican National Convention from the streets of downtown St. Paul last week.
The first day of the convention was nearly null whereas the streets of St. Paul were alive with resistance; George Bush opted to speak by telecast rather than fly into the Twin Cities, and nearly 700 people were arrested over the course of four days.
The police presence was astounding. Swat teams from all over the country, officers from 10 different agencies, National Guard soldiers and countless surveillance cameras were brought in to defend the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Non-violent demonstrators were met with teargas, concussion bombs, rubber bullets and mass arrests. It was apparent that their strategy was intimidation, as seen through their use of violence in the streets to the raids on media and activist houses.
I had arranged to cook with the Minneapolis Food not Bombs chapter throughout the week but the morning after I arrived, the Ramsey County Police Department raided the cookhouse and arrested one. This caused enough of a disturbance that the police were successful in railroading a massive support effort.
While participating in noRNC demonstrations, I wrestled with a range of conflicting emotions: exhilaration, frustration, rebellion, trepidation, inspiration, helplessness and even sadness. Since we so rarely witness conflict over the fundamental assumptions of nation-state, this moment was evocative. It was about people taking to the streets, enraged at a political system that continues to wreak premeditated damage, disillusioned with the ineffectual permitted marches and disposed to take direct action to challenge the status quo.
There are many thoughts still coming, philosophies changing, and a much longer analysis in progress. Let me know if you'd like to receive it.
Ultimately, I made it out of the Twin Cities without being caught in a mass arrest. I marched, I strategized with new friends and I made vegan cupcakes for the harmony-soldiers in our house. I spent some time in Minneapolis, a stark contrast to its estranged sister city.
It supports a nifty and resilient infoshop and two of the coolest collectively-run cafés I've seen. In getting to know the counter-culture of Minneapolis, I kind of fell in love with the Midwest.
Marika and I hitched a ride to Madison, Wisconsin in an already full car of protesting boys on their way to Chicago. We retreated to a five-story lakefront castle cooperative. The 28-person collective was kind enough to let us stay a few nights after we cooked them dinner and went through the "crasher-meeting" process.
Madison reminded me a mix of the Riverwest area in Milwaukee with its aged-confluence of social activism, the Frat row on Alder Street in Eugene, Oregon and the noxious consumerism of Santa Barbara's Main Street.
In Madison, I learned about their marginally used local currency from one of the 60 initiators. The Madison Hours ("In Each Other We Trust"), not only provide a framework for an internal and local barter system, but also foster friendships between neighbors as they learn about each other's skills. Additionally, the Hours are inherently educational as they open space for a deeper understanding of the US currency system and logistics of possible alternatives.
Throughout the weekend, I visited Madison's prized Farmer's Market, drank herb tea by the lake, goofed around with Marika in our final days for a time to come, and hung out with some local wingnuts at the Food not Bombs in Peace Park.
Chicago (jumping back in time) was a fun time, especially following the dark days of Detroit. I made friends with a collective squat weary of being watched by the Eff Bee Eye. I scored a loaner-bike from a sweet bike mechanic education project and used it to ride for miles all over Chicago, including a 20-mile ride down to Hyde Park. I caught up with a long-lost pal on a rooftop overlooking a train yard and shared vegan French toast with familiar faces. Gaily, I attended two dinners in a row. The first was a potluck hosted by a righteous Just Seeds Art Collective member where the company was somehow even more delicious than the food. Guests were interested in my work and I didn't feel like a stranger for long. The following night I found the Weiser House for dinner. This warehouse spot is like a giant version of Station 40, complete with an abandoned 3rd floor, secret rooms, a free store, an extensive Books-to-Prisoners library and a huge events space. I helped make dinner and talked with folks about their fledgling Free School project and the upcoming RNC.
In the day to day, I've been curling up on floors, eating couscous and tahini out of my bag, wooing hosts with tea ceremonies, conquering public transportation systems, washing my clothes in bathtubs, thanking new friends for unexpected generosity and sometimes daydreaming about a sweetheart in the Bay. I am gleaning so much information and background on projects in every city I visit. It's impossible to keep up, but this is a good sign. I've got plenty of work to do. Now I'm rolling along to St. Louis where a friend of a friend awaits to show me the way to all the counter-institutions I can fit into my little red notebook.